In 2008, filmmaker Josh Fox received a letter informing him that his home and 19 acres on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania sit atop the Marcellus Shale Formation (which holds the largest natural gas reserve in the U.S.). The letter stated the natural gas exploration company would pay him around $100,000 if he would allow them to set up shop on his land and drill beneath it using the process of hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
Fox grabbed his camera, hit the road, and began filming Gasland.
He traveled around the country talking with and filming people who were already living with natural gas fracking operations on their land, under it, across the street, upstream, or in the neighborhood.
Gasland viewers will see and hear real-life accounts of contaminated drinking water, toxic fumes, explosions, illnesses, and destroyed property values. The movie follows the attempts of these people to get help from the corporations doing the fracking and the government agencies responsible for protecting their health and the environment.
Five years later, Fox hit the road again to film Gasland Part II in which he revisited some of the people he met during the first movie, interviewed then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and was arrested while attempting to film a Congressional hearing.
The Bottom Line
Josh Fox is the founder and producing artistic director of the International WOW Company. He has written, directed, and produced pieces for the stage and screen. Fox garnered media attention and accolades with the release of Gasland in 2010. The film won several awards and received a 2011 Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary. The follow-up movie, Gasland Part II was released in 2013.
The Gasland movies show real people in real settings. They are informative, occasionally shocking, and often heartrending.
The stories of the people shown in Gasland and Gasland Part II could be anyone’s stories. Imagine your life without safe water for drinking, bathing, washing dishes, doing laundry, or filling your pet’s water bowl. How would you feel if you were powerless to stop a corporation from building a natural gas drilling rig next to your child’s school? What would you do if your home was now worthless and you could not afford to abandon it and move away?
I pose these questions not to dissuade potential viewers from watching the Gasland movies but to encourage you to learn about how natural gas production affects people and the environment. Ignorance is not bliss; awareness of a problem is the first step towards solving it.
Gasland and Gasland Part II should be required viewing for all corporate executives and government officials.
I think I will ask President Obama if he has seen the movies yet.
Some readers may be able to relate to CEOs, executives, and managers handing down the private sector version of executive orders in the form of company-wide or department-wide edicts, directives, or mandates. In my experience, sometimes we followed directives to the letter, other times half-heartedly, and sometimes not at all.
Does the President garner more cooperation than a corporate CEO does? The answer is probably “It depends,” but the President as the Chief Executive of the United States does have the backing of the U.S. Constitution.
I thought it would be fun and informative to find out what actions federal agencies have taken to comply with the directives of EO 13514. Below is a summary of what I learned during a brief investigation.
Executive Order 13514 – Overview
The U.S. federal government occupies over half a million buildings, operates more than 600,000 vehicles, and purchases over $500 billion in goods and services each year 1, which enables federal agencies to make enormous reductions in carbon emissions, water use, and fossil fuel consumption, while using their considerable buying power to influence greening the government supply chain.
The actions and targets outlined in EO 13514 cover a wide range of measures including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing energy efficiency, using renewable energy, conserving water, diverting waste from landfills, improving building performance, and buying environmentally preferable goods and services.
Federal departments and agencies affected by EO 13514 include the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, the Social Security Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and others.
Note: EO 13514 uses the federal government’s fiscal year (FY) calendar, which begins on October 1 of one year and ends on September 30 of the next.
Individual agency scorecards and strategic sustainability performance plans were relatively easy to locate, but I could not find a dashboard or report summarizing progress made to date on a federal government-wide basis, except for energy-related goals.
Executive Order 13514 – Interagency Collaboration
EO 13514 designated various agencies to work together to develop tools and guidelines to assist all agencies. A few examples are below.
The DOE led the development of a GHG emission accounting tool and procedure for measuring and reporting progress.
The GSA and DOE prepared guidelines to aid agencies in improving fleet energy performance.
The EPA led the effort to create guidelines for working with vendors on greening the supply chain.
Executive Order 13514 – Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans
Each agency created a sustainability plan outlining the actions it is taking and intends to take to achieve its goals and comply with EO 13514. Agencies publish scorecards and updated sustainability plans annually.
Progress on Energy Goals
The federal government is the largest energy consumer in the U.S, therefore, reducing fossil fuel use, increasing energy efficiency, and increasing renewable energy use will not only reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions it will save taxpayers billions of dollars.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Goals
EO 13514 requires each federal agency to establish a GHG emission reduction goal based on 2008 estimated emissions and achieve the goal by 2020.
The GHG emissions reduction goal consists of three categories:
Scope 1 – direct GHG emissions from federally owned or controlled sources, including fuels, burned on site and vehicle emissions.
Scope 2 – indirect GHG emissions from the offsite generation of electricity, heat, or steam purchased by federal agencies.
Scope 3 – indirect GHG emissions related to agency activities including vendor supply chains, delivery services, and employee travel.
Federal agencies established their 2020 targets in early January 2010.
As of September 30, 2013, the federal government had reduced direct GHG emissions by 17.2% seemingly on track to meet the 28% goal by 2020 and had exceeded the 13% goal for indirect GHG emissions with a 19.8% reduction.
Petroleum Product Use Reduction Goal
Agencies operating a fleet of least 20 motor vehicles are required to reduce consumption of petroleum products by 2% annually through 2020. I could not locate a government-wide progress report on petroleum use.
Renewable Energy Goal
President Obama raised the bar on renewable energy on December 5, 2013, by issuing his Memorandum on Federal Leadership on Energy Management, which requires each agency to obtain 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020, beginning with 10% in 2015.
Federal agency renewal energy use was at 9.2% of total energy use in September 2013.
My research indicates that at least in the case of EO 13514 federal agencies do take presidential executive orders seriously.
Greening the U.S. federal government is good for the planet, people, and taxpayer wallets.